The Difference between ‘Come’ and ‘Go’ and Other Commonly Confused English Words

Some English verbs are frequently confused because they can seem similar although they are used in different contexts. Two such verbs are to come and to go. While some think they are interchangeable, their use depends on perspective and direction. Not every language has similar directional verbs, so confusion arises because both verbs appear to describe movement in similar circumstances.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines to come as:

  • to move or travel towards a person, object or place

Whereas to go is defined as:

  • to travel or move to another place.

So, unhelpfully, both definitions express travel or movement ‘to’!

Let’s clarify the difference between these two words and some other commonly confused words.

 roundabout

Perspective and direction

The primary difference between to come and to go lies in perspective and direction.

One comes in (physically) but goes out, one comes towards but goes away.

To Come:

Implies movement towards the speaker or the point of reference.

  • Can you come to my house tomorrow?

In the above example, the speaker is at their house (or will be) and is inviting someone to move towards (come to) that location.

To Go:

Indicates movement away from the speaker or the point of reference.

  • I will go to your house tomorrow.

This speaker is currently not at the said house but intends to move towards (go to) it. However, to go to that location, the speaker must move away from their current location.

In a further example, I might train my dog to come to me.

When she has come, I will release her to go away again!

This is why, English speaking dog owners can be heard shouting “Come!” to their dogs and not “Go!”

 dogs running

Contextual usage

To Come:

Used when inviting someone to join the speaker’s location.

  • Come over here and see this!

Can also be used to describe future events approaching the present.

  • Christmas is coming soon.

To Go:

Used when describing the speaker or someone else leaving their current location.

  • I need to go to the shops.

Often used to indicate planned movements away from the current position.

  • We will go on holiday next month.

Common mistakes

Students confuse these verbs because they do not consider the speaker or listener’s perspective.

Here are some common errors with corrections:

  • Incorrect: Will you go to the party at my house?
  • Correct: Will you come to the party at my house?

The speaker is at or will be at the house and wants the listener to move towards that location.

  • Incorrect: I will come to the shop to get some bread.
  • Correct: I will go to the shop to get some bread.

The speaker is leaving their current location to move towards the stop.

 footprint in the sand

Similar confusions

Many pairs or groups of verbs can be similarly confusing due to their subtle differences in meaning or context.

Here are some additional, common examples:

Borrow and Lend

These verbs can be confusing because they involve the same action from different perspectives. Borrow means to take something from someone temporarily while lend means to give something to someone temporarily.

  •    Can I borrow your pen?
  •    I will lend you my pen.

Teach and Learn

These verbs can be confused by students because in many languages the same word is used for both. In English, to Teach means to impart information or learning to another while to learn means to obtain or absorb information or learning from a teacher.

  •    Can you teach your dog to come?
  •    My dog is learning to come.

Bring, Take and Give

Similar to come and go, these verbs depend on the direction relative to the speaker. Bring implies movement towards the speaker, and take implies movement away from the speaker. Give involves transferring something to someone else, focusing on the act of handing over.

  • Please bring the book to me.
  • Take this book to the library.
  • Can you give me that book?

Hear and Listen

Hear is an involuntary action while listen is a deliberate action.

  • I can hear the music from the next room.
  • I like to listen to music while I work.

Look, See and Watch

Look is intentional and focuses on directing your gaze while see is often more passive and about perceiving with your eyes. Watch involves looking at something for a period of time, usually something that moves or changes.

  • Look at that beautiful painting.
  • Can you see the hills in the distance?
  • We watch television every evening.

Lie and Lay

Please see the linked article for more detail on this common error.

Lie and lay verbs are commonly confused due to their similar meanings and forms. Lie means to recline or be in a flat position while lay means to place something down:

  • I need to lie down for a while.
  • Please lay the book on the table.

Raise and Rise

Similarly to lay and lie, raise requires a direct object and means to lift something while rise does not require a direct object and means to move upwards:

  • Please raise your hand if you have a question.
  • The sun rises in the east.

Say and Tell

Both of these verbs involve communicating, but say focuses on the act of speaking while tell focuses on conveying information to someone.

  • What did you say?
  • Can you tell me the story?

Conclusion

To come involves movement towards the speaker or reference point while to go involves movement away from another reference point. By keeping perspective and direction in mind, students can confidently use these verbs correctly. Remember, people call their dogs to come and not to go!

With practice, the distinction between similar word pairs and groups becomes natural, so have a go at the practice exercises below.

 exercise

If you have any questions or comments, please do enter them below.

Exercises to practise

Commonly Confused Words

1 / 22

I like to _____ the stars on a clear night.

2 / 22

My son will _____ a new language at school this year.

3 / 22

Please _____ me about your trip to Europe.

4 / 22

I can _____ some money from the bank tomorrow.

5 / 22

She _____ her handbag everywhere she goes.

6 / 22

Can you _____ me your pen for a moment?

7 / 22

We _____ to the same school when we were children.

8 / 22

I need to _____ to the bank before it closes.

9 / 22

_____ to my party early if you want to get a good meal.

10 / 22

They _____ to the beach every summer.

11 / 22

She is _____ here to visit us next week.

12 / 22

Let's _____ for a walk in the park this evening.

13 / 22

I can't _____ to the phone right now, please leave a message.

14 / 22

He _____ early every morning to catch the bus.

15 / 22

She _____ her children well.

16 / 22

I _____ the sound of the ocean from my bedroom window.

17 / 22

They _____ a film at the cinema last Saturday.

18 / 22

He _____ students English at the local school.

19 / 22

She _____ a book to her friend as a birthday gift.

20 / 22

We _____ to music together in the car.

21 / 22

The sun _____ in the east every morning.

22 / 22

Let's _____ a walk in the park this afternoon.

Your score is

The average score is 98%

0%

Börjars, Kersti, and others. Introducing English Grammar, 2nd edn (Routledge, 2010)

Burton-Roberts, Noel. Analysing Sentences: An Introduction to English Syntax, 4th edn (Routledge, 2016)

Cresswell, Julia. Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins, 3rd edn (Oxford University Press, 2021)

Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 3rd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2019)

Hewings, Martin, and others. Cambridge English Grammar and Vocabulary for Advanced (Cambridge University Press, 2015)

Huddleston, Rodney, and others. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Cambridge University Press, 2002)

Parrott, Martin. Grammar for English Language Teachers, 2nd edn (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Pinker, Steven. Words and Rules (W&N/ Science Masters, 2001)

Quirk, Randolph, and others. A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, reprint edn (Pearson, 2011)

Seely, John. Oxford A – Z of Grammar & Punctuation (Oxford University Press, 2020)

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/

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